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In as much as Champagne can be considered a brand embodying a "House Style," which is often the case, it can be a true wine of terroir. Whether it’s the sub-regional distinctions from the Kimmeridgian soils of the Côtes de Bar to the distinct chalkiness of the Côte des Blancs or explored at an even closer level such as an individual lieu dit or parcel within a particular vineyard, organic farming and deft winemaking helps distinctive terroir speak clearly. Below are a number of Champagnes which while delicious are also particularly soil driven and compelling.
We've had the disticntive pleasure of carrying Emmanuel Brochet's Champagnes from the northern portion of the Montagne de Reims for a few years now and marvel at their distinctive savory stoniness. Emanuel Brochet meticulously farms a 2.5 hectare plot called 'Le Mont Benoit' in the village of Villers-aux-Noeuds, where the three major Champagne grapes are grown in the chalky-clay soils over Cretaceous chalk of the mid-slope vineyard. He ferments with native yeasts and vinifies in wood and his wines have a distinctly mineral core which is nearly tactile on the palate. The 2012 base Le Mont Benoit is newly arrived and still a bit taut, but displays this pungent earthiness and is already layered and complex for a young wine.
We've been fans of the incisive, terroir-driven Champagnes of Laherte Frères for quite some time now. Located south of Epernay where the chalky soils of the Côtes des Blancs and the clays of the Vallée de Marne intersect, Laherte combines organic and biodynamic viticulture and deft use of oak aging to fashion wines which are rich, mineral, and unabashedly focused. Les Vignes d'Autrefois is old vine Pinot Meunier from the villages of Chavot and Mancy whose soils are clay over chalk producing a Champagne of suppleness, cut, and clarity. The oak aging lends a sense of texture to this chalky exppression Pinot Meunier which straddles the line between power and poise.
Benoit Marguet is one of our favorite Champagne producers for many reasons. First, it's fascinating to see someone's wines improve with every vintage as his dedication to biodynamics begins to bear fruit. Second, while some vignerons embrace biodynamics to improve their wines, one gets the sense Benoit believes that embracing biodynamics inmproves his life and the farming and wines follow suit. Blessed with old vines in Ambonnay and Bouzy his wines are profoundly mineral as well as powerful, though never top-heavy. His work in the vines as well as fermenting and aging in barrels produces wines of richness and class expressing the character of the terroir, quite deftly. Both Les Crayères and Les Bermonts from two different sites in Ambonnay combine power and finesse while being profoundly mineral, though showing this minerality in different registers.
Hubert Soreau is a new grower for us. His Champagne comes from 3 parcels of Chardonnay totaling .49 hectare in Le Clos l'Abbé, very near Epernay, whose soils are made up of clay and silt above Cretaceous chalk. The Clos has been planted to vines since the 9th Century when the Bishop on Reims ordered it cleared for viticulture. Soreau's production is quite modest, about 1200 bottles, but of beautiful quality. The vines are farmed without chemical fertilizes, herbicides, or pesticides. The fermentations are with native yeasts in used barriques and 300 liter barrels from nearby Hautvillers, the secondary fermentation takes place under cork, and the wines are aged sur latte for seven years. The wines have a distinctive chalkiness, but with a bit more richness than the blanc de blancs one finds in the Côte des Blancs. The 2008 base Le Clos l'Abbé is suave and mineral with a fine bead; the finish is dry and admirably long.
Laherte Freres is a longtime favorite of Chambers. They combine organic farming with well-considered winemaking in the area near Epernay where the the Valée de Marne and Côte des Blanc meet. TheThe 2010 Les Vignes D'Autrefois Extra Brut is made from 100% Pinot Meunier from 40-60 year-old vines from Chavot and Mancy, this is displays both the vinous nature of the fruit as well as the underlying terroir (clays over chalk) which is revealed by organic farming. The wine hews to the more savory side of the spectrum, with herbal notes framing the fruit and giving way to a fine chalky minerality on a bracing, long, dry finish. (2g/l dosage; disgorged 02/2014) John McIlwain
Someday soon the Ambonnay Grand Cru lieu-dit of Les Crayères will be spoken of in the same reverential tones as Hermitage’s Les Bessards or Alsace’s Clos Sainte Hune. Similarly, Benoît Marguet will be heralded for having preserved and defended the health of his soils and his vineyard workers. These valuations form a positive feedback loop, where greater care and attention to finely delimited vineyards will help these great terroirs shine. Marguet’s Les Crayères is a blend of 62% Chardonnay and 38% Pinot Noir from an airy, mid-slope vineyard. Light golden in color and starred by a finely beaded mousse, the aromas begin with acacia, ripe raspberries, and honeysuckle before transitioning to Red Delicious and violets. The zero-dosage palate is broad and gripping with notes of dark chocolate, Meyer lemon, and fresh peppermint with a vanilla macaroon and ripe cantaloupe finish. An expressive and uncompromising Champagne of terroir! Disgorged 3/2014. David Salinas
Benoit Marguet is a true believer in the power of biodynamics to change not only wine but the vineyard and life for the better. He is passionate about the relationship between the vigneron, the vines, and his wines. His vineyards are plowed by horse, fermentations are with native yeasts, his wines see little to no sulfur, and his viticulture shows clearly in the finished wines. While the 2011 vintage was difficult for most producers, Marguet's wines were lovely. Les Bermonts is a blanc de blancs from vines planted in 1952 in the grand cru Ambonnay, unusual as the village is more notable for Pinot Noir. Les Bermonts is chalky and mineral, showing the power of Ambonnay, while also showing an incisive minerality, which drives the wines. This shows citrus blossom and chalky on the nose, while the broad palate is saline, textured, and savory. This will benefit from time in the cellar and is a compelling expression of the terroir of the Montagne de Reims. John McIlwain
Hubert Soreau is is a vigneron whose wine exemplifies the dedication of small growers to producing distinctive Champagnes of terroir. Farming .49 ha near Epernay without chemicals, he produces tiny amounts of wine which ages in wood, sees long less aging under cork, and extended time in the cellar before release. The current Release of Le Clos l'Abee (base 2008 with this bottling) is vinous, waxy, layered, and burnished with plenty of savory and umami notes complementing the incisive minerality from the terroir. The aromatics balance yellow fruit and citrus peel with brioche and soil notes. This is a treat for fans of leesy, chalky Champagnes. There is a fine bead and a long, broad, elegant finish. (Dosage 5g/l; Disgorged Fall 2015) John McIlwain